Considering one of her shining moments came during an upset victory in a doubles match, you might find it odd to learn Joliet Catholic Academy’s Harley Hutchison will end her high school tennis career playing singles.
Hutchison has a goal of finishing in the top 32 this weekend as Buffalo Grove High School serves as the host of the IHSA state tournament. How she has come to be recognized one of the Midwest’s top-rated singles players in the USTA’s 18-under class and how she has arrived at this juncture is a story unto itself.
She picked up a racket for the first time at the age of 6, following in the footsteps of her parents, Douglas and Leslie Hutchison, members at the Five Seasons Sports Club in Burr Ridge and later-in-life tennis buffs. Soon, Harley was enrolled in tennis classes and taking private tennis lessons.
By the time she was 9, she was playing competitively. She was hooked on the ideal that playing tennis largely is an individual endeavor and empowered by her ability to control what happened on the court. On those rare occasions when she faltered, Harley quickly learned to look in the mirror. She was struck by a realization: No blame game here.
She developed a powerful serve, steady forehand and backhand strokes and a net game that separates her from many others in girls tennis.
“It’s the thing that’s unique for her—that could do her well in college,” Joliet Catholic Academy coach Mark Streitz said. “A lot of times the colleges identify players like her to play doubles, and that may be the case for her. She gets to the net. She can put the ball away. It’s like pulling the curtain, the point’s over. She can finish.”
Hutchison showed off her finishing power in the East Suburban Catholic Conference tournament. She teamed with fellow JCA senior Alexis Bauer to win the No. 1 doubles title in an ESCC upset for the ages.
After digging a hole, Hutchison and Bauer rallied to defeat Benet Academy’s Mary Beth King and Daniella Reyes in a three-set thriller. The loss snapped a 50-match ESCC doubles win streak for King and Reyes.
Hutchison and Bauer became the first JCA duo to win the No. 1 doubles title at the conference tournament since 1994.
“My friend, Mary Beth King, was on the Benet team that we played,” Hutchison said. “Afterward, she told me she was 50-0 for conference play. We were that one that beat them. It was a really, really good experience.
“Alexis (Bauer) played amazingly well. We came out and defeated the No. 1 seed. We lost the first set 6-3, and I knew we had to regroup, take a deep breath and we could definitely come back because we were in it. They just pulled away. So, then it went 7-6 and we won the tiebreaker in the second set.
“We got really focused. We started not taking such risky shots—just trying to knuckle-down. And, then in the third set, we were so ready to win, we just came lights out and beat them 6-2.”
Bauer will be playing doubles this weekend in the state tournament with JCA freshman Nina Bertino. Hutchison will be looking to make her mark in the singles draw. She defeated Joliet West’s Caitlyn Shea 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 to win the singles title at the Joliet West Sectional.
Unlike some others, Hutchison has come to feel comfortable out there on that all-by-yourself island that is singles tennis. She is having fun playing a game that will foot the bill for her college education. She has signed to play next season at Bowling Green State University.
“I know in team sports—everybody’s like, ‘You’re on a team with everybody else,’ ” Hutchison said. “But you’re out there individually and you’re proving to everybody that this is you doing your own thing for tennis—to the best of your ability. I really like that.”
Hutchison’s rise to a 20-4 record is one that can be traced to her own dedication and desire. She first qualified for the IHSA state tournament as a freshman in doubles play and advanced for the second time in singles as a sophomore. She played club tennis and hit the USTA circuit during her junior year, one eye trained on recruiting and her college future.
“She really works hard on her game, and she’s got her own (club) coach,” JCA assistant coach Terry Wrona said. “She works year-round on the game. And she’s a tenacious defender. She really loves to defend. And she can also come to the net and put points away. That makes her doubly tough.”
Because tennis is a sport Hutchison can play for the rest of her life, she likely will have a racket in her hand for some time to come. She has other dreams and aspirations that she will move to the forefront at some point, though.
Like Hermey— that spectacled North Pole elf in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer—she wants to be a dentist. Hutchison boasts a 3.51 grade-point average and is a member of the National Honor Society. She also is a member of JCA’s Respect Life Club, Spanish Club, Student Council and Varsity Club.
“I want to be an orthodontist, so I’ll go into Bowling Green’s pre-dental program,” Hutchison said. “I really looked up to my orthodontist over the years when I had braces. I thought his practice was really cool.
“And our coach—Coach Streitz—he’s a dentist. He always talks about how much he loves what he does.”
And he loves to talk about Hutchison, too. Streitz has known Harley for most of her life and has come to think of her as part of his extended family. Singles? Doubles? Tennis? Whatever.
“She’s got a good attitude,” Streitz said. “She’s great to be around, always ready to go, an all-around good kid.”